Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q: I teach children with behavioral issues, and make every effort to treat them respectfully and admonish or punish them in private, especially concerning serious matters. In some instances, however, I cannot avoid telling off a student in the presence of her classmates, and I also believe that other students may benefit from seeing and hearing the consequences of their friend’s behavior.

I’d like to know when this is permitted and when it is prohibited.

A: Following are the general rules for admonishing: If a student’s offense was done in private and other students are not likely to find out about it, a teacher should try to admonish her in private, and not in the presence of her fellow students. But if negative behavior occurs in public, then a teacher may admonish or punish her student publicly, so that others will take heart and avoid the same behavior; and for other reasons.

But there are exceptions to every rule. If a teacher knows from past experience with a particular student that punishment in private won’t accomplish anything, and the girl won’t learn her lesson, then there may be a heter to punish her publicly, on the condition that this type of negative behavior is common enough among her classmates. Each case, however, must be judged independently.